The bears were a bonus.
The extraordinary radio show — broadcast live on WIOX and streamed in real time on the Internet — was the main attraction that night, or so we thought. It was, at any rate, our reason for driving deep into the Catskills for a chance to read on the air from CHILD OF MY CHILD, our then-new book on the eve of its official publication date.
And, in every regard, the show lived up to our expectations and then some. Dubbed “Cabaradio” and billed, accurately if also tongue-in-cheek, as “Garrison Keillor meets David Letterman meets Hee Haw,” it was the season’s installment of what has been a quarterly, two-hour variety program performed before a live audience and built of musical performances, comedy bits, poetry, storytelling, and other literary pursuits, and casual but insightful interviews with some of the key players in the economic or cultural life of a fascinating and varied region.
It was fast-paced, far-reaching, and –best of all — professionally executed without ever veering into the realm of modern-media-slick. It was real. It was impressive. And it was a blast.
The performers had something to do with that. But not everything.
The bill that night included a couple of skilled storytellers schooled in regional traditions, a two-person team of impresarios/recording producers tapping into and showcasing the area’s rich folk music traditions, a talented house band, a seasoned acoustic bluesman, a tween-age rock band, and a conversation with a regional planner (it’s an area, after all with incredible resources and incredible challenges), for starters.
Add to that a spirited, tongue-in-cheek audience Q&A segment called “Your Mother Should Know” featuring a quick-thinking, silver-haired ‘advisor’ who never strayed far from a killer punch line, and, of course, the poetry segment that had brought me into the mix, and it could only be a full and fun evening of entertainment.
As enjoyable as the on-stage pageant proved to be, however, what I most remember one year later is the energy, interest, and easy camaraderie of the highly-diverse audience. And that, it turns out, was the real point of the show.
“Cabaradio” is just one offering on the eclectic menu of programs and services offered by the Pine Hill Community Center, a remarkable little organization situated in a tiny hamlet (population 308, or so) and serving a region of mostly tiny hamlets and towns. But that radio program (which is preceded, appropriately, by a popular pot luck dinner) makes for a compelling picture of the Pine Hill Community Center overall. The experience made it very clear that “Community” is not just a part of the feisty organization’s name, but the core value that enables it to hit the high notes that many larger and wealthier organizations only aspire to.
Which is just to say that the show was great, but in the final analysis it was the audience that truly told the story.
Oh, and about those bears– New York State wildlife experts say there are perhaps 1,500 black bears living in the Catskills these days, a growing population that has residents learning anew how to live alongside the beautiful but dangerous and sometimes-bold animals making a comeback in the region.
On the night of the “Cabaradio” program, several of us who were slated to perform found ourselves in the makeshift green room before the show, while a mother bear and her two cubs made a playground of a hillside, not much more than a first down from the window we watched from.
After the show, I bought a T-shirt featuring the “Cabaradio” logo–a black bear wearing headphones.